The Clinton Sex ScandalRare is a person that crosses the path of the White House without some emotionof envy or awe. This building epitomizes world leadership and unprecedentedpower. This renowned leadership may be the only association made by certaincountries, while in the United States many see an other significance:Watergate, Whitewater, Kennedy’s brutal and mysterious assassination, andtoday, Clinton’s “zippergate” scandal. When the President of the United Statestakes oath, he gives up a part of his life. His private life becomes thepublic’s life, and they feel the right to know what happens behind the OvalOffice. Now the Presidency must battle against Newspaper journalists, radiopersonalities, televised news reports and now, even more menacing: theInternet.Presidents who are constantly reminded of their power and prestigious rank,become exasperated because they cannot control the news media, even though theycan to a large degree set the news agenda. Media has expanded in its presence,becoming widespread on the Internet, perhaps monopolizing the domain, bybecoming more powerful and more used than written, televised or radio journalism. The Presidents’ inability to control the press exposes their vulnerability and tends to question the actual power they can actually exert.All presidents, at some time or another, became frustrated at what theyperceived as unfair treatment by the press, even while acknowledging its vitalfunction in a free society, and many presidents have been a part of a scandal.The current Presidential scandal with Monica Lewinsky had swept the Nationovernight. It seems quite impossible to know just how it will all turn out, andunfair to even speculate, but the media certainly seems to think they possessthat right. It is obvious that this story has changed the face of journalism,has put online media on the map in a major way, and has made life moredifficult for newspapers forever.First, let’s take a look at how this story developed and how it acted on theInternet. David Noack of E;P in his article “Web’s Big Role in Sex Controversy”does a great job of detailing the twisting path this tale took from rumor toinvestigation to publication, and how the Internet played a key part. Noackpoints out in his article that the “Clinton/Lewinsky” scandal has drasticallychanged online media. He writes:”A year ago, most newspapers and news magazines adhered to the hard rule thatthey would not stoop themselves by putting breaking news on their Web sitesbefore it appeared in their print editions. But a rapidly-growing public demandfor almost “instant” Web coverage of breaking national news stories has forced even the largest newspapers and magazines like the Washington Post and Newsweekto abandon the old rule.””Out with the old, in with the new.” It is easy to think breaking storiesonline could dilute journalists’ on-paper presence; now many have realized thatonline media puts all journalists on equal footing with radio and TV. So whodrove this change, pushing away the status quo? Matt Drudge, author of “TheDrudge Report”. It is still the Internet’s gold rush period and everyone isrunning around trying to make a profit. The irony is that the person who bestembodies what’s revolutionary about the Internet has made next to no money fromit: Matt Drudge, 30, is the author of “The Drudge Report”, a bulletin ofentertainment gossip, political rumor and witty meta-news. His web page (http://www.drudgereport.com) is austere; it consists of a headline, links tonews sources and some black and white clip art. Apparently he is really quitewell informed, he reads 18 newspapers a day and he admires politics enough togo after both sides of the story when the time comes. Drudge’s contact list hasbeen expanding far quicker than his bank account he now has a huge following,with a mailing list of over 85,000 people.This web journalist has such an impact on the Internet that last week hemanaged to cause consternation in the White House and this was not the firsttime. He flagged a story Newsweek had been sitting on for six months: that President Clinton may have propositioned a White House worker named Kathleen Willey on federal property.I found an article on the Internet that seemed to sum up exactly what people’sopinion on Drudge is, very mixed:”The best thing about the Internet is Matt Drudge. He knows how to use theonline medium. He prizes speed, being first, and he connects strongly with anaudience that wants personality and gossip. The worst thing about the Internetis Matt Drudge. He caters to the lowest common denominator. He gets storieswrong. He makes traditional journalists very uncomfortable. We don’t want himto represent us. But do we have a choice?”What made Drudge tick and become such a Net phenomenon? He started poking hisnose where others feared to treadthe White House. He broke the Kathleen Willeystory: she was the reluctant witness for the Paula Jones defense teama WhiteHouse employee who was “comforted” by the president when she feared her husbandmight be in trouble. And Drudge certainly got the attention of the White Housewith his story.It obviously doesn’t seem right to condone irresponsible reporting, but itshould be pointed out that Drudge is not a journalistand never claimed to be.Drudge is an Information Age pioneer in a much uncharted territory. He doesn’tlive by the same standards as the press.Newspaper companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollarsperhapsbillionsresearching ways of effectively distributing their information on theInternet, since it is the way of the future. It has its benefits: it is an easyand instant way to compare and contrast news accounts from all over the UnitedStates. That discovery is scaring the establishment press as much as Drudge’scritical reports have scared the truth police at the White House. TheWashington Post, CNN and other big news organizations have resorted to lawsuitsto try to prevent the kinds of news links provided by Drudge and WorldNetDaily.Their excuse being that they did not want ordinary consumers to be able tocompare their news accounts to those of other news organizations. The White House, which was so often in alliance with the establishment press,is now trying to make Drudge disappear and they will not be satisfied with anyother result. The lawsuits are not about money or apologies, but aboutextinction for alternative voices. If Drudge is silenced by the White Housegoon squad, the media world will definitely become a little less interestingand a little less free in the news realm.Steve Silberman, a writer for Wired magazine, had a grudging praise for MattDrudge with his role in the Clinton/Lewinsky story in one of his columns:”It’s a Drudge World After All”:”In Drudge’s world, which is our world now, the act of uncovering what wasformerly hidden – of getting the skinny, routing around bureaucratic firewalls,defying the spin-doctors to tap the loose-lipped confidant is paramount.Second to the act of uncovering the dirt is the enthusiasm to spread it around.Garbage in, garbage out – and as quickly as possible. The velocity is largelythe point.”So how does it make traditional journalists feel? Uneasy? Tainted? TheClintn/Lewinsky scandal is that kind of story; nasty and dirty. But more thanthat perhaps, they are acting recklessly, and people like Drudge, operating inthe high-speed, high-competition world of the Web, aren’t pushing us that way.For instance, Jan. 23, just a couple of days into the Clinton/Lewinsky crisis,when it was still just two people who both said nothing happened, televisionand radio commentators were already using words like “resign” and “impeach.”Which, to me seems like a quick rush to judgment.Pack journalism and media frenzies aren’t new phenomenons, but the Internet haschanged the character of the pact. Eleanor Randolph and Jane Hall of the LosAngeles Times make some interesting points about this in their article: “MediaCoverage Turns Into a Full Press.”They write:”When you commit wall-to-wall coverage of a sensational story in which littleis known, you’re inevitably going to wind up in a swamp of sleaze,” one networkexecutive said, adding that television ends up “repeating half-truths andinnuendoes because you’ve got air time to fill and people who come on haveagendas.”Maybe all this is true, maybe it is false and it is going more than a littlepatience to change something, because it is everywhere. You’ll have no troublefinding news about this latest mess in the White House but rather have troubleavoiding it. Despite the fact that it is a top story for all newspapers andtelevision programs, a lot of the reporting is redundant, and the major papersare surprisingly slow to update.The Internet media shares the same issues that the written or televised presshave: censorship and morality. It does not seem logical for the media to feelthey have the right to publish the President’s personal letters, such as theones from Kathleen Willey:Dear Mr. President You have been on my mind so often this week There are so very many people whobelieve in you and what you are trying to do for our country Take heart inknowing that your number one fan thanks you every day for your help in savingher wonderful state.With appreciationKathleenyet cannot write “f****ing” in complete letters in the transcripts of theMonica Lewinski-Linda Tripp tapes:Lewinsky: Well, it doesn’t have to be a f—ing conflict.Tripp: What do you mean? How? Tell me how? What am I supposed to say if theysay, “Has Monica Lewinsky ever said to you that she is in love with thepresident or is having a physical relationship with the president?” If I sayno, that is f—ing perjury. That’s the bottom line. I will do everything Ican not to be in that position. That’s what I’m trying to do… I think you really believe that this is very easy, and I should just say fk it. They can’t prove it.In what way does it concern the American people whether or not Kathleen Willeyis “proud of the President’s performance?” (No pun intended) and I’m sure wecan deal with the use of a four letter word if we can deal with the fact thatPresident Clinton had oral sex with his 21 year old intern.The Clinton-Lewinsky story may have set off an unprecedented media blitz, butthe American Presidency is no stranger to scandal. Throughout history,residents of the Oval Office have been known to participate in “improper relationships” with unsavory political associates or women who were certainlynot their wives. If White House walls could talk, here are some of the talesthey might tell:As early as between 1913-1921, the President, Woodrow Wilson, had a nickname”The Merry Widower”. He was the son of a straight-laced Calvinist minister,Wilson was depicted by Sigmund Freud as someone who identified himself withJesus Christ. In fact, Wilson’s reputation as a devoted husband and father wassqueaky clean until his wife’s death two years into his first presidentialterm.After a deep (but brief) period of mourning, Wilson began to enjoy the frequentcompany of Edith Bolling Galt, the widow of a prominent businessman. Publicopinion swung wildly against Wilson: Rumors flew that the nation’s 28thpresident and his paramour had conspired to poison Wilson’s wife.Eventually the couple wed and public opinion swung again, this time wildly infavor of President Wilson’s new wife and marriage. When a stroke left Wilsonpartly paralyzed in 1919, Edith took over many of his routine duties as part ofher self-described “stewardship” of the presidency. She died on Dec. 28, 1961,the 105th anniversary of Wilson’s birth.More currently, there was the John F. Kennedy scandal, his presidency whichextended from 1961-1963 was peppered with his reputation of being awomanizer. The list had many famous names like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield,Angie Dickinson, stripper Blaze Starr and Judith Campbell Exner, lover ofreputed Mafia boss Sam Giancana. “They are only a few of the better-knownparamours with whom JFK has been linked,” University of Virginia governmentprofessor Larry Sabato writes in his book “Feeding Frenzy,” “not to mention ahealthy dose of anonymous airline stewardesses, secretaries and aides. By manycredible accounts, John F. Kennedy was not King Arthur but Sir Lancelot in theCamelot of his presidency.”There were also other presidential scandals that weren’t sexually related, suchas Richard Mulhouse Nixon, who was in office between 1969 and 1974. When fiveintruders were caught inside Democratic National Committee headquarters in theWatergate hotel on June 17, 1972, American history changed forever. Aninvestigation into the break-in revealed a web of political spying and sabotage and unraveled the Nixon presidency itself. The illegal activities andcover-up attempts resulted in the indictments of some 40 government officials and the resignation of the 37th president of the United States.In the 1980s, Nixon regained some stature in the field of internationalaffairs. But the release in 1997 of more than 200 hours of tapes made in theNixon White House threw yet another shadow over his complex presidentiallegacy.And today in 1998, we have a full blown “modern scandal” of our own. But afundamental change separates modern-day presidential scandals from those in thepast: publicity. Except for Cleveland’s paternity case and recent allegationsagainst Bill Clinton, presidential love scandals have “always come out afterthe fact,” says James W. Davis, author of “The American Presidency.” “Tongue-wagging” was kept to a minimum in the pre-Watergate era, he says. “Thepress in those days honored the privacy of the White House. It was a differentera.” American attitudes toward presidential scandal may have arrived at yetanother level in the late 1990s. “Perhaps we’ve reached a point where Americansreally do compartmentalize to separate the president’s public actions from hispersonal life”, says Larry Berman, a political science professor at theUniversity of California, Davis. “Today the voters realize they have a humanbeing in the White House who has the same shortcomings and foibles that we allhave,” Davis adds. “It’s like Melrose Place all the time.””The establishment of the office of independent counsel in 1978 also changedviews of the presidency”, says Shirley Anne Warshaw, associate professor ofpolitical science at Gettysburg College and author of “The DomesticPresidency”. The Clinton-Lewinsky story “is all based on a series of leaks,”she notes. “Ever since Watergate, society has said ‘Let’s investigate ourofficials at a different level.'”The Clinton sex scandal supplies all the evidence. It is a story made in Webmedia heaven: Too complex for a 90-second TV report, too fast-breaking forprint newspapers and too titillating for the public to ignore. People flockedto the Internet in record numbers when the story broke. At Fox News Online, theClinton scandal generated more traffic than the death of Princess Diana. At APOnline, the scandal outran the Super Bowl 3-to-1. At CNN Interactive, itcontributed to a tenfold hike in traffic in one day. And the Washington Post’sWeb site was hit so hard, it had to add extra servers.That is not to say the online news was always accurate. Plenty of people arguethe coverage was reckless, at best. But everyone agrees that the Web drove themedia frenzy. Because Web news organizations exploited their five advantages:1. Speed. News delivered when it happensnot when the paper is printed. Andit doesn’t have to be videotaped, edited and airedjust posted to a server.2. Space. Can’t squeeze in details? No problem, just link to another page.3. Cost. No costly newsprint. No delivery trucks or newsstands. No TVstudios to operate. No satellites to rent.4. Interactivity. Newsgroups, chat rooms and other discussion forums offeran instant soap box. And an audience.5. Open all night. It is never too late to break a story on the Internet.For example people can post their opinions on certain issues so others can readthem and reply. Like this letter posted by a woman in response to an editorialarticle on the Internet concerning the Clinton scandal:”Your story regarding the rush to report on the Clinton scandal pushed me to dosomething I never thought I would do. That is respond to a web site. Yes I amsure the Internet showed its flying colors when it came to getting andreporting the story first. What story? I have a question for you. When did thisnation start practicing Roman Greco Law (guilty until proven innocence)? Ithought we practiced Common Law, but I guess in our tabloid mentality anythinggoes. I say shame on every type of news media that is available in thiscountry.Will the truth once it is known even if it is not as spectacular, be splashedall over every media vehicle available? I’m sorry but I doubt it. Do any of usother than the President and Ms. Lewinsky know what the truth is? Is it any ofour business? Just asking. You have a wonderful valuable service, I visit yoursite at least once if not more each day. Please don’t waste my value time byselling the merit of this media via some scandal. This media can rest quitecomfortable on its own value. Thank you.”But before Web news can become world-class, it must overcome certaindeficiencies:1. Visuals. Television will win this one, hands-down, until streamingtechnology improves.2. Access. Online access must pass critical mass.3. Credibility. The Internet has to shed its reputation as a digital rumormill.It’s been quite an exciting few weeks for the nation. Since the allegedPresident Clinton/Monica Lewinsky alliance first hit the news, the public hasbeen treated to scandal coverage of the first order. The power of 24;hour newsnetworks, the print media, and the Internet have been at the public’s serviceto help them wade through the sordid morass of the Clinton sex files.From the beginning of the coverage, there has been a perception that this wasthe media’s big break with Clinton. Heavily criticized by many on the Right fornot pursuing the Clinton Administration enough during earlier scandals, the media now seemed to lay into Clinton. Though differing explanations emerged,the prominent one was that the President’s slick maneuvering through previous scandals had irritated the press. Now, with allegations of actual presidential dishonesty, as well as revelations of previous dishonesty to the pressregarding the Gennifer Flowers affair and marijuana usage, the press was notgoing to give the President a free ride.The accusations of lying to the media and the American people seem like apretty plausible claims. Clinton (and for that matter, Vice­President Gore) issneaky, and likes to play the “literal truth” game. Especially in hisexplanation of his statements in the infamous 1992 60 Minutes interview. Atthat time, he said allegations of an eleven­year affair with Gennifer Flowerswere false, but conceded that he had previously “caused pain to his marriage.”In his deposition in the Paula Jones trial, he admitted to the affair. Itdoesn’t take a philosophy class in logic to sense that the two statements areinconsistent.Clinton’s explanation shows his adeptness with literal truth. Apparently, thereason he denied an eleven­year affair with Flowers was that the affair wasn’televen years old. Now, it would seem to you or me that this avoids thesubstantive issue of the question; generally, a question regarding theexistence of an eleven;year affair is dealing with the existence of the affair,not the timespan. Clinton stays literally truthful, but avoids the realquestion … such is the “literal truth” game.Clinton is surely not the first to do this; while you or I may not do it on avery consistent basis, I’ll bet we all have at one time or another. I am sure that we have all been caught at one time or another and when you get caught at that sort of thing, your victim’s assessment is that you are dishonest.Given this, we can see why the press might be annoyed with Clinton, for this “literal truth” game has been played consistently from the Press Briefing Roomfor six years. From Flowers to Whitewater, “Zippergate” to the campaigncontribution scandal, the press has been, at worst, told the literal truthonly; at best, they have been used.So, the relentless media push on this current Clinton scandal isunderstandable. Yet if they believed that hard investigative reporting of WhiteHouse shenanigans would hurt President Clinton this time, they were clearlywrong. No matter how many hour long Investigating the President specials CNNruns, it seems that the Lewinsky affair is the “Little Scandal that Couldn’t.”Yet the press, for all its high;minded condemnations of Clintonian morality,certainly cannot look to anyone but itself for the public’s current lack ofconcern, since their focus has in some ways created the problem. Theimplications of the Lewinsky affair for Clinton have boiled down to twoseparate issues. The moral issue of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky is quitedifferent from potential presidential obstruction of justice and subordinationof perjury.Now, the moral / sexual issue is by far the most appealing, ratings;wise.Surely, more people are interested in the sordid details of what went onbetween Clinton and Lewinsky during the throes of passion than what may havetranspired in their later conversations. Thus one can understand why mediacoverage of the Lewinsky affair begins, proceeds, and ends almost totally overquestions over the sexual allegations.The problem is that the issues with teeth are those of subordination of perjuryand obstruction of justice. They are the ones that people actually seem to careabout; polls suggest that the public does not care about the sexual charges. IfClinton lied, the public says, then he should go, if it is just an affair, thenso what?The result has been a press focus that is distinctly not persuasive to theAmerican people. Market forces demand sex, the public hears of the sex, thepublic doesnt care about the sex, so Clinton isn’t seriously hurt by the sex.While people are aware of the potentially more serious charges, these issueshave not received the serious focus they deserve.The distinction is crucial, since it appears more and more likely that thesexual allegations are true and provable, while the perjury and obstructioncharges could well elude investigators. Clinton supporters in all this haveseveral key facts they will need to explain away if they are to put together acoherent story in which Lewinsky and Clinton had no sexual relations. Whyso long before a clear presidential denial of such relations? What explains thehours of tape of Lewinsky talking to Linda Tripp? Perhaps most crucial, what explains the 37 visits by Lewinsky to the White House, after she wastransferred to the Pentagon by a White House manager concerned about Lewinsky’szealous attempts to get close to the President?The attempts so far to exonerate the President of these sexual allegations allbear trademark similarities. There are the ad hominem attacks on Kenneth Starr
Category: History